Book Review – “Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis” by George Sayer

Over the years, I have read most of the works written by C.S. Lewis. However, I realized recently that I knew little of the man himself. My favorite writer, the man I wish could be my grandfather and tell me the very stories he wrote, was mostly a mystery to me. So I began the work of finding a suitable biography to describe the author behind the words I love so much. I settled upon George Sayer’s,Β Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis.

Sayer was a student at Magdalen College, a member of Oxford University, and was a pupil of Lewis’. He begins the book by recounting his first meeting with his soon-to-be tutor. As he approached the front door to Lewis’ office to attend his first appointment, he found another man waiting outside with graying hair and a pipe in his mouth.

“Are you a pupil come for a tutorial?” he asked.

“No. But Mr. Lewis is going to be my tutor next term. I’ve come to find out what he wants me to read during vacation.”

“You’re lucky in having him as your tutor,” he said.

Just then the door opened. A young man in a scholar’s gown came out and went rapidly down the stairs. The puck-faced man asked if he could slip in before me. “I only want to retrieve a manuscript,” he said. He left the door open. Through it I could hear a strong, rich voice.

“Splendid, Tollers. Just the man I wanted most of all to see. I’ve read what you gave me with great pleasure. When can we talk about it? Can you stay now and have some lunch in college? Give me five minutes with a new pupil. Then I can be with you.” The puck-faced man said he would sit in the sun until Lewis was ready.

Little did he know that upon his first meeting with C.S. Lewis, he had also been received by his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the author who would one day writeΒ The Lord of The Rings. Most know Lewis’ days of atheism and his desire to disprove the authenticity of Scripture. Though it was a discussion with two men in 1931, one of them Tolkien, lasting into the earliest hours of the morning that swayed him to a lightheartedness towards faith in Christ. The following morning as he and his brother rode on a motorcycle to a nearby zoo, he experienced renewal. “It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

The most enlightening details about Lewis came in the form of descriptions about his personality. Sayer portrays a man who cared little for small talk over subjects like clothes, shopping, or household improvement, but relished the deeper topics of life. He avoided most conversations over his private life and rarely asked those details of others. Most of what has been compiled in his biographies comes from his journals/writings and accounts of those close to him. He cared deeply for his students and worked tirelessly, sacrificing much of what others took as leisure time and devoted it to their care. He was not fond of fancy meals or expensive delicacies, but preferred a simple meat dish with the trimmings, tea or sherry, and a cigarette or pipe tobacco while reading a book once dinner had concluded.

I also found it humorous to read that Tolkien very much disliked the Narnia stories. He thought them silly, worthless, and a hodgepodge of mythological characters who did not belong together. Luckily for us, Lewis had a handful of other friends who strongly encouraged him to publish these stories. Though I love his non-fiction work, I’ve come to find that I resonate most with his fiction. And I am moved by the passion that he had for teaching through story. He discovered this effective possibility after writing and publishing the first book in his space trilogy,Β Out of The Silent Planet. He was surprised by how few of the immediate reviews for his book overlooked what he thought were glaring undertones of Christianity. Lewis wrote:

If there was only someone with a richer talent and more leisure I think that this great ignorance might be a help to the evangelisation of England; any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance with their knowing it.

Though most today know him to have been a believer in Christ, rarely do you find anyone offended by the stories of Narnia or the simultaneously ferocious and kind Aslan. Through these stories he has introduced us to a wonderful world with a wonderful king in the hopes that it would open the hearts of this world to its own true King.

C.S. Lewis was a bold defender of Christianity, but he was not overtly divisive. He shied away from theologically controversial issues and concentrated instead on evidencing the central tenets of the Christian faith. He put them into words that resonate with the minds of many and continue to leave me with a greater desire for what I know is to come.

If you’re looking for a well-written, light-hearted read on C.S. Lewis, I recommend George Sayer’s book.

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